Wednesday, August 19, 2015

She Named You Donna (A Memoir) by Julie Kerton

Julie Kerton's memoir, She Named You Donna, piqued my interest before I even read the first page, when I realized that Julie is one of those rare people who represent all three sides of adoption.  Not only is Julie an adoptee, she is also a birth mother and an adoptive parent.  I imagine that it must be difficult at times, shifting from one viewpoint to another; however, I was excited to get a glimpse into these differing perspectives wrapped up in one person.

Julie's story begins in 1973 when she is 15 years old and attending on all-girls Catholic high school 30 miles north of New York City. Soon she meets her first serious love, Scott, and that is when things get complicated.  As you can probably guess, Julie gets pregnant out of wedlock.  While her family was more supportive than many, the difficulties Julie experiences are painful to read at times.

In one scene at the Westchester Adoption Agency, Julie is expressing her desire to parent her baby, but the adoption agency social worker discourages her at every turn.  Julie met with this particular social worker every Wednesday until later in her pregnancy when Julie's parents arrange for a private adoption through a lawyer, to enable her medical expenses to be paid.

When Julie explains her parents' decision to the agency social worker, this conversation takes place,

" 'Can I still come and see you Wednesday afternoons?,' I ask softly.

'I'm sorry, but if you don't use our agency for placement, we can no longer provide you services,' she explains.  

And then I understand what this is all about.  She just wanted my baby."

Four years post-relinquishment, Julie describes the lingering grief:

"It had been four years, and I still couldn't forget. They told me I would. That my life would be good. But I'd been on the ride of promiscuity, running from my pain, my memories ever since."

Fast forward many years later, struggling with infertility, Julie has another experience with an adoption agency -- this time, along with her husband Peter, adopting their first child, Lauren Elizabeth.  A son named Sean follows soon after.  Julie experiences a face to face meeting with the birth mother of her son that Julie found quite painful, as Julie knew exactly what her son's birth mother would soon be facing post-relinquishment.

One day after Julie is part of a happy family of four, she is drawn to a television show featuring an adoption reunion. Julie experiences mixed feelings and argues with herself:

 " 'I don't want to know.  I'm sure I don't want to know.  I'm really fine not knowing.'

But before the show ends, I've dialed the number flashed across the screen, and hold for the next available operator, lullabied by Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville insisting that somewhere out there someone's thinking about me, credit card readied for my how-to search manual."

Several days later, Julies receives a 3-ring binder titled, "A Guide to Searching".

Being born in New York state, Julies birth certificate was (and still is) sealed, so she decides to see if she can get a hold of her baptismal certificate. She is successful.  Next, Julie learns some other interesting details from the adoption agency Non-Identifying information, including that her birth mother named her Donna.

Not long after receiving her Non-ID, Julie gets a call from ISSR (International Soundex Registry) who informs her there has been a match with her birth mother, who had signed up years earlier. When Julie later receives a packet of photos of her birth family from her birth mother, she poignantly describes the following:

"I am overcome with grief.  I never expected this.  I'm not looking for a new family.  I love my family.  I just wanted to know why I look like I do.  That is all it is, not more than that.  Why does this hurt so much?  How can I love her so much?"

Her feelings really resonated with my own, when I experienced both elation and then a depression that came on soon after meeting my own birth mother.  Julie realized (as did I), that you have a sudden knowledge of what you actually missed by not being part of your birth family growing up.

A few years after Julie reunites with her birth mother Pat, Julie's birth daughter seeks her out.  Julie's thoughts post-reunion with her daughter, Belia, spoke to me deeply:

"I'm three almost four weeks into my new position of reunited birth mother. From this side, the relationship is rooted in memories.  Places my mind couldn't tour.  I'm treading on the present, daring to hope for a future.  My words are careful, my actions more so.  I look to Pat as a mentor. I'm ashamed at how I poked and prodded her for my benefit, my curiosity.  Belia is no different, calling me several times a day, for more answers and new questions.  I'm exhausted by it all. . . . ."

I felt deeply guilty after reading this part of Julie's story -- the realization suddenly dawning on me, how my birth mother must have experienced my own over-active curiosity.  At this point, I kept thinking, how much more did Julie have to go through?  It's almost like she was in this never-ending cycle of adoption grief.
Julie Kerton
I encourage you to read the book to find out!

Simply put, I loved this book.  I thoroughly appreciated Julie's honesty, no matter how difficult the truth was to read at times.  I completed the memo
ir with a deeper understanding of my own birth mother's perspective, in addition to feeling validated as a fellow adoptee and adoptive parent.

This book is truly a must-read for people both within and outside of the adoption community as the universal themes will speak to you whether you are connected to adoption or not.

Thank you, Julie, for your bravery and the heart you put into your writing.

Go here to visit Julie's blog and here to purchase the book.

Lynn Grubb is an Illinois adoptee, stepmother, biological mother and adoptive parent.  She grew up in Centerville, Ohio and graduated from Wright State University.

In March of this year, she published the The Adoptee Survival Guide: Adoptees Share Their Wisdom and Tools.  When she is not at home checking her latest matches on Ancestry, 23 and Me and Family Tree DNA, you can find her at any live concert in the Dayton, Ohio area.

She blogs at No Apologies for Being Me.